It seems like lots of physical conditions have a warning that appears prior to the actual ailment. These include pre-diabetes, pre-menopause, and pre-cancer. I think there are warnings that show up before or along with some emotional changes as well.
Everyone knows about “Empty Nest Syndrome,” but it does not have a medical diagnosis or definite symptoms. This term describes the feeling of loss when children grow up and move away or attend college. I don’t think that this is experienced by all parents in the same way or at the same age of children.
If you have had a child start school, you may have had a slight case of “ENS.”
If you have had a teen get their driver’s license, I bet you had a bit more intense case.
If you have had a young adult show signs of a serious love relationship, I almost guarantee you, it is there.
An actual empty nest is a sign of children grown and independent and living on their own. This is a cause for celebration and not sadness. Adults still have relationships with their parents. The difference is that the parents do not rule the roost (in keeping with the bird analogy) any longer. Once the student enters kindergarten or pre-school, there are a few hours on those school days that mom and dad are not beside their little one. But the healthy parent accepts this growing independence. Visiting friends’ homes, going on class outings, taking a dance or karate class, are all little spaces of time away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.
As the kids get older it seems to us that it gets easier to have that separation. And then, all of a sudden, comes what I always found to be a huge step in independence; and for me, a difficult leap of trust in the universe. This might sound dramatic, but I truly found the driver’s license to be the big scary event in my parental history. They are really on their own in a powerful vehicle with crazy drivers on every road! I still get chills just thinking about it.
Falling in love is great. But if it is Daddy’s little girl or Mama’s big boy who has the stars in their eyes, maybe not so great. A lot of us as parents are not ready for the happy glow of youthful romance on the faces of our young adult offspring! Some pretty sad stories come from the scenario of the parent who cannot accept the new love in their child’s life. Maybe there is a sudden realization that it is too late for that dreaded birds and the bees talk. Oops.
Personally, I don’t think it is ever too late for any talk with your children, on any subject. Thinking about what is to come can help young parents to be ready for the inevitable.
Let’s all admit it. None of us want to be that family with 30 and 40 year old adult children who do not know how to make any decisions without mom or dad.
The goal right from the start of each child’s life is for them to be full grown contributing adults.
Coping with Pre-Empty Nest Syndrome, one life experience at a time, may be the only way to prevent the ache when the kids are all moved out.
Lillian is a midwestern mother of 5 grown children and a grandmother of 10.